• Digital Transformation
  • Mobile App Dev
  • Supply Chain

The Pitfalls of Not Having a Mobile Supply Chain Strategy

Written by Robert Brice
July 10, 2019

Not having a mobile supply chain strategy could chain you to outdated legacy systems.

Not having a mobile supply chain strategy could chain you to outdated legacy systems.

In today’s world of “mobile-first” strategies, many IT teams in the supply chain find themselves struggling to keep pace with corporate mobile initiatives. Even if an organization has adopted a “single-vendor” strategy for its enterprise applications, IT professionals still find themselves with various “black box” point solutions. This hodgepodge of technologies leaves the IT department with costly and time-consuming tasks of managing, maintaining and customizing each technology separately.

As IT teams become increasingly strapped for bandwidth, attempting to wrangle a complex “patchwork” tech stack filled with disparate technologies and custom code just to keep the business running isn’t an effective strategy to facilitate growth or improvement.

Instead, identifying a mobile platform that can unify and streamline these functionalities can help managers develop an effective strategy that requires less time and lower costs to maintain.

No Mobile Strategy? The Dangers of Mobile Patchwork

Having multiple tech solutions in place to create mobility in your supply chain operation is what we refer to as “mobile patchwork.”

As the need for mobility solutions has increased, companies have responded by mobilizing various pieces of the system in different ways and at different levels of functionality. This piecemeal approach has left the ERP customer to deal with a variety of mobile architectures and possibly even multiple vendors. Some examples of mobile applications provided by these mega-vendors include Telnet-based shop floor solutions or products that have been acquired by other smaller vendors such as sales force automation applications.

If the ERP hasn’t mobilized the functionality needed by your supply chain company, IT personnel must either build an entirely custom solution or purchase a “bolt-on” module or best-of-breed application. These options are not only costly but introduce yet another technology into an already complicated landscape. Having multiple vendors to fulfill multiple mobility functions exacerbates the problems of mobile patchwork even further.

The IT departments of today are looking for ways to rationalize these over-complicated mobile environments. But without a unified platform to provide the foundation for a long-term mobile strategy, IT will have to continue into the cul-de-sac of custom code and constantly re-building to meet new business requirements.

Into the Technology Cul-de-sac

Formulating a mobile strategy is critical to avoiding the technology cul-de-sac - an inevitable dead end.

Formulating a mobile strategy is critical to avoiding the technology cul-de-sac – an inevitable dead end.

What’s at the end of the cul-de-sac? A dead end. That is a situation where the IT department lacks the manpower and budget to roll out new mobile initiatives to meet business needs due to spending so much time and money on just maintaining existing architectures.

Taking a short-sighted mobile patchwork approach instead of developing a true mobile strategy results in IT being unable to respond to business needs—its number one priority.

Hidden Custom Code Builds Up Over Time

Traditional bundled ERP mobile solutions are developed as simple applications that must be customized or tailored to the needs of each customer. While the ERP system provides the base technology and some starting-point applications, the user must either configure the system to disable or enable prompts or use the application as a starting point to develop custom screens.

This approach may work if you have an in-house expert with the appropriate skillset, resources and time to develop, modify or customize mobile supply chain apps. Most supply chain organizations do not have the personnel or bandwidth to do this. Further complicating the situation is the fact that software providers often lock you into being dependent on their services by not providing the code for their products or remaining opaque about technical aspects of integration. Even if your developer requests the code to customize in-house, the vendor may not be willing to provide it.

Additionally, many end users with ERP expertise lack the specialized knowledge to develop mobile apps, and vice versa. When mobile apps need little or no change to make them operational in your business, this isn’t a problem. However, mobile supply chain apps require more tailoring than traditional desktop applications to meet your specific business processes because they are more closely integrated and create accelerated efficiency gains. This requires expertise in both mobile app development and the ERP.

Assuming a specialist or third-party expert developed this custom code for your enterprise mobility solution, the amount of customization built up over time may become significant. Without that specialist or expert on-hand, there may be no way for IT to know where all that custom code is hidden.

Having an all-in-one mobile platform can help unify your technology systems into a single environment.

Having an all-in-one mobile platform can help unify your technology systems into a single environment.

The Strategic Approach: All-in-One Mobile Platform for the Supply Chain

When an enterprise business develops a new strategy, one of their primary concerns is not just long-term viability, but scalability as well. Ideally, IT follows this lead. Mobility in the supply chain doesn’t have to be a patchwork of solutions, custom code, vendors and workarounds. IT can align with organizational priorities by establishing a framework that enables your operation to evolve smoothly as the company grows.

Starting with a vendor that can provide an all-in-one mobile platform with hardware and the ability to set your operation up for self-sufficiency is essential to a successful mobile supply chain strategy. This simplifies your mobile tech stack and consolidates the complexity of your vendor relationships. Instead of coordinating between separate providers for hardware, software, mobile app development and consultation, everything you need will come from the same source. Compatibility, technology integrations and strategy will be streamlined and unified into a single ecosystem working in harmony.

Using RFgen’s Mobile Unity Platform™ as an example, we will show you three ways a mobile supply chain platform can simplify your enterprise mobility strategy.

Mobile Development Studio: Mobile App Development for the Supply Chain

A crucial component to a scalable, alterable mobile ecosystem is a low code mobile app development platform, or MADP, that enables in-house IT departments with limited resources and lack of specialized mobile development training to create mobile apps for the supply chain. Using low code MADP can help your environment avoid custom code buildup, gain transparency into how your mobile supply chain apps operate and reduce dependencies on legacy systems. Not only will this make them easier to modify or troubleshoot but will create a way to easily develop additional mobile apps without having to hire a third-party expert or rely solely on the vendor.

The Mobile Unity Platform takes a comprehensive approach to enterprise mobility to extend your ERP investment, including a built-in mobile supply chain app development platform called Mobile Development Studio.

As the premier mobile development platform for the supply chain, Mobile “Dev” Studio is a low-code to full-code platform architected for building mobile supply chain apps. Using modern design concepts, intuitive UI and drag-and-drop functionality, Mobile Dev Studio delivers world-class design, development and testing in an integrated development environment (IDE). Mobile Development Studio enables even junior programmers with limited experience to easily and quickly modify or develop mobile apps. This dramatically reduces the cost and time of development for tweaking existing applications or developing new supply chain apps from scratch.

In a sense, the Mobile Dev Studio enables the ultimate scalable mobile solution since mobile apps can be developed to evolve in conjunction with your business as needs change and the organization grows.

Mobile Application Server: Powering Real-time Data Collection

Using a low code mobile supply chain app platform like Mobile Development Studio enables organizations to reduce custom and hidden code buildup.

Using a low code mobile supply chain app platform like Mobile Development Studio enables organizations to reduce custom and hidden code buildup.

Having the ability to scan barcodes or use mobile devices is one thing. Being able to capture data in real-time with maximum accuracy from a mobile device and then communicate that data to your ERP bi-directionally is quite another—and a necessity.

An integral component of the RFgen ecosystem (and a winning enterprise mobile strategy) is the RFgen Application Server. This robust, Windows-based multifunctional application server provides enterprise-class performance and can be installed in just minutes. Once up and running, the server can shuttle data captured by wireless barcode scanners, IoT and other devices to your ERP database and back to the mobile handhelds again.

Maintaining multiple application servers to support multiple mobile protocols and deployment options increases cost and complexity in your mobile landscape. RFgen’s Mobile Application Server supports a wide range of deployment options, such as on-premise, cloud (public or private), or hybrid deployment, and supports true casually disconnected or completely disconnected mobile.

In addition, the RFgen Mobile Application Server has an extremely small footprint that does not install code on your ERP server, does not use a separate database, and provides the ability to cluster multiple servers to support a large number of mobile users.

Mobile Administration Console: Remote Mobile Device Management

One of the major headaches of running a patchwork mobile environment is trying to administrate so many applications running on different platforms or through different vendors. The ongoing cost of monitoring and maintaining diverse mobile assets is also problematic in an age of perpetual cost-cutting.

By condensing that landscape into one framework, such as the Mobile Unity Platform™, admins can use a simple oversight tool like the RFgen Mobile Administration Console. This real-time “mobile dashboard” gives IT administrators the ability to remotely monitor all aspects of their mobile activity using a 360-degree view of the entire mobile landscape. The Mobile Administration Console provides visibility and statistical monitoring of all user and system connections.

In this way, the IT manager can drill into any currently running real-time session to look “over the shoulder” or “shadow” any mobile user and view or interact with the session.

This powerful feature dramatically reduces the cost of production support for the IT organization by:

  • Enabling mobile devices, apps and updates to be deployed remotely without the device being physically present with the admin.
  • Providing a way for IT personnel to support, train and troubleshoot mobile issues specific to an individual user at any location.
  • Creating a means of updating or tweaking the mobile ecosystem in real time and without having to bring the system down or impact the ERP.

There is no doubt enterprise mobilization of ERP systems is going to continue to bring benefit and value to the modern supply chain enterprise. Embracing this mobile trend by adopting an enterprise mobile strategy will help reduce complexity and cost while increasing the agility and flexibility of the IT organization, efficiency gains that extend to the business as well.

Instead of relying on short-term solutions that result in overly burdensome, costly patchwork mobile environments down the road, take the time to create a mobile strategy that will set your business up for long-term success and scalability. Identifying a vendor that can provide all your mobility needs in one place, having a flexible mobile app development platform, and introducing a holistic mobile ecosystem that seamlessly integrates into your existing tech environment are all attributes to look for when choosing a solution that supports an effective enterprise mobility strategy in the supply chain.

Want to learn more? Talk to an expert today.